Lighting Up With Emerald Mountain

A preying mantis sits atop a flowering cannabis plant.

Oregon photographer takes vivid cannabis photographs by paying close attention to his environment.

Cannabis photography is basically a zero sum game: you either get a vivid encapsulation of the natural magic and majesty of the world’s most controversial plant or an unremarkable snapshot of some dried up flowers.

And for a masterful expression of the professional end of the spectrum, you can’t do much better than the work of Martin Henderson — the man behind the curtain at Emerald Mountain Media, which produces some truly exquisite pot pictures.

A perfectly lit stem of the Dawgwalker plant on a black background.

Henderson has been fascinated with photography for most of his life and has been shooting professionally for roughly eight years.

For him, what makes a photograph ‘good’ or ‘bad’ boils down to a single element — the one that makes photography possible.

“Photography is all about capturing light,” he said. “Everyone focuses on ‘you got to have this gear,’ but the biggest thing I find that differentiates people’s work is their attention to lighting.”

He said his personal style when it comes to capturing cannabis is rooted in an exploration of contrasting shadows.

“I use two different angles of light to bring out those textures,” he said. “I try to keep the lights diffuse and soft enough that I don’t blow out the trichomes, cause those are really reflective.”

A stem of Purple Punch reaches up towards the sky.

This technique lends depth and complexity to his bud portraits, which he says emphasize the structure, color and variations of a strain. But some of his most compelling shots are of living outdoor cannabis plants shot in situ with all natural lighting.

My personal favorite — a praying mantis delicately perched on a blooming cola — was the product of a happy accident and a little cooperation from nature.

“It was one of my plants I was growing outside, and we saw that a praying mantis was on there,” Martin said. “So I grabbed her and put her on the nug there. She posed for me and I took the shot.”

When it comes to selecting “models” for his cannabis photography, Henderson said he previously relied on personal connections, often photographing his own plants or those of a friend.

A plant of Form Cookies has flowers bursting forth in front of a black background.

As a born-and-raised Oregon native with the right friends, finding quality crops to shoot wasn’t too difficult.

“The cannabis industry is a pretty closed world,” he said. “It really is ‘who you know,’ and then once you get in the field and other people see you. That’s how I got my first job — I know people.”

More recently he’s been taking on contract jobs for growers and vendors looking to highlight their crop on Instagram and elsewhere.

But no matter where Henderson’s camera takes him, he’s always following the light.

“When I drive down the road I study the way the sun affects things,” he said while also offering advice for newcomers. “Study how light falls on stuff and how it affects things — how it takes a subject form ordinary to extraordinary.”

A fat bud on Lemon Sour Diesel poses against a black background.

Originally published in Issue 25 of Cannbis Now. LEARN MORE

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Greg Zeman is the Associate Editor of Cannabis Now Magazine. His previous editorial credits include Staff Writer at a national political news site (Politix), Editor-In-Chief of a bilingual San Francisco newspaper (El Tecolote) and Founding Editor of an investigative journalism non-profit (Bay News Movement). His writing has been featured in SF Weekly, SF Evergreen, 3200 Stories, Offbeat and elsewhere. He wakes up at 4:19 but doesn't leave the house until eleven past seven.

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